Volunteers for mock tours of Bucharest’s historic architecture

Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca is looking for volunteers: I am designing two new Bucharest architectural tours (Royal and Muntenian/ Brancovan themes) and would welcome participants for the following mock/ rehearsal tours (free of charge, of course):

  • Tuesday 21 January, the Royal theme, meeting at 11.30h (duration 2h) in front of Carol I statue, Revolution Square,
  • Wednesday 22 Jan., Brancovan theme, meeting at 11.30h (duration 2h) in front of the entrance of Municipal Museum – Sutu Palace.

You need to be physically fit for a walk in town, on a distance of 5km. The participants are welcome to actively engage with the expert in historic houses and ask questions you consider relevant to the tour theme.

Valentin Mandache, Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca

Rehearsal architectural tours: Royal and Muntenian/ Brancovan theme (Historic Houses of Romania - Case de Epoca)

Rehearsal architectural tours: Royal and Muntenian/ Brancovan theme (Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca)

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway assembly

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway assembly, house buit in the early-1930s, Cotroceni area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I divide the evolution of the Neo-Romanian architectural style in three main phases. The early one lasted from its initiation in 1886 by the architect Ion Mincu with his edifice in the national style, Lahovary house, until 1906 when the Royal Jubilee exhibition took place, showing to the public its grand pavilions, many designed in an elevated unitary manner that “canonised” the style, which marked the beginning of its mature phase. It reached an apogee after the country’s victory in the Great War and subsequently in the 1920s decade, when was adopted all over the territory of interbellum Romania. The late 1920s, and the 1930s decade saw the increase popularity and in the end prevalence of the international styles Art Deco and Modernism, which induced a crisis of expression for the Neo-Romanian, thus marking its late phase. The national style managed to strive through an imaginative synthesis with the Art Deco and also Mediterranean inspired forms, resulting in extremely interesting designs. The evolution of the style practically ended with the instauration of communism in the winter of 1947, under the impact of the ideologically driven architectural priorities of the new political regime. It continued to have echoes for another two decades especially in vernacular forms and in motifs used on post-war edifices.

The street gate and doorway assembly presented above belongs in its design outline and period when it was built to the late phase of development of the Neo-Romanian style. The wrought iron gate is inspired from Brancovan style church or altar doors, but expressed in coordinates close to Art Deco. The two gate posts are also derived from church or medieval citadel towers, conforming with the national-romantic message of the style. The door itself shows a series of square panels pointed each by a central disc, which can be understood as the outline of an ethnographic solar disc or an interpretation of a Greek cross. The wall surround of the door is basically an adaptation of a church door opening in reduced to essence coordinates of the Art Deco style. The doorway assembly dates from the beginning of the 1930s, and as the time progressed into that decade, the expression of the Neo-Romanian forms in an Art Deco “ambiance” became even more prevalent and captivating as a form of architectural language.

Central School for Girls’ logo

The Central School for Girl's logo, displayed on the street facade of this renowned Bucharest high school (the abreviations stands for Scoala Centrala de Fete),

The Central School for Girl’s logo, displayed on the street façade of this renowned Bucharest high school, designed by architect Ion Mincu in the early Neo-Romanian style, 1891. The abreviations stands for Scoala Centrala de Fete. (©Valentin Mandache)

The author of Historic Houses of Romania blog at the launch of the Liberal Publishing House

I had the honour to be invited, yesterday 21 Nov. ’12, at the launch of the Liberal Publishing House, in the great company of Mr. Radu Campeanu, a veteran of the National Liberal Party of Romania, who spent many years in the Stalinist prisons and in exile (he is among the main re-founders of the party after the fall of Ceausescu’s dictatorship), and Mr. Varujan Vosganian, a leading member of that National Liberals. I spoke about the Neo-Romanian architectural style and how the building hosting the event, Ionel IC Bratianu House, by architect Petre Antonescu – 1908, is one of the archetypes of this design peculiar to this country. I trust that the speech was received with interest, judging from the images and video-recoding presented bellow. VM

The author of Historic Houses of Romania blog at the launch of the Liberal Publishing House. Venue: Ionel IC Bratianu House, Bucharest, 21 Nov. 2011

The author of Historic Houses of Romania blog at the launch of the Liberal Publishing House. Venue: Ionel IC Bratianu House, Bucharest, 21 Nov. 2011

Short visit to Antim Monastery, Bucharest

The main church of Antim Monastery (1710s), Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I just had a short visit to the beautiful Antim Monastery in the very centre of Bucharest. It is a superb building gathering many motifs and styles from the Ottoman world of the c17th and c18th that I need to thoroughly investigate, analyse and meditate upon.

Church royal chair featuring King Ferdinand’s cypher

Church royal chair with King Ferdinand’s cypher, Mantuleasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

A number of Romanian orthodox rite historic churches in Bucharest and other places of importance throughout Romania contain ceremonial chairs, named “thrones”, dating mostly from the period of the Hohenzollern – Sigmaringen dynasty (1866-1947) destined for the use of the metropolitan/ patriarch and of the chief of state who at one time or another visited, consecrated or re-consecrated that building. The chair destined for the sovereign (there were two chairs if he was accompanied by his spouse) usually displays the cypher of the crowned head who first visited the building, assisted or gave his blessing to those important ceremonies, sometimes also containing other hallmarks of Romanian royalty, such as the crown or coat of arms. A royal or princely cypher is a monogram of the reigning ruler, formally approved and used on official documents or displayed on public buildings and other objects of public use or owned by the state, such as postal boxes or military vehicles, etc.

The image above shows an interesting example of a royal chair from Mantuleasa church in Bucharest (a beautiful Brancovan style monument, restored in 1924 – ’30, in the reign of King Ferdinand and his descendant, King Carol II), photographed during a recent Historic Houses of Romania tour in that area. The chair displays Ferdinand’s cypher, a stylised back-to-back double “F”, as he was the monarch who officially inaugurated the restoration works. On top of chair’s back there is also an interesting representation of Romania’s state crown, the famous steel crown made from the melted metal of a canon captured in the 1877 Independence War. The whole assembly is rendered in the mature phase Neo-Romanian style, with ethnographic solar discs and acanthus/ vine leave carvings, constituting an interesting ceremonial furniture example expressed in the national design style. King Ferdinand’s cypher is a rare sight nowadays, the chair presented here bringing back memories of this remarkable sovereign, who strove all his life to keep a reserved and dignified public profile.

Church royal chair featuring King Ferdinand’s cypher

Church royal chair with King Ferdinand’s cypher, Mantuleasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

A number of Romanian orthodox rite historic churches in Bucharest and other places of importance throughout Romania contain ceremonial chairs, named “thrones”, dating mostly from the period of the Hohenzollern – Sigmaringen dynasty (1866-1947) destined for the use of the metropolitan/ patriarch and of the chief of state who at one time or another visited, consecrated or re-consecrated that building. The chair destined for the sovereign (there were two chairs if he was accompanied by his spouse) usually displays the cypher of the crowned head who first visited the building, assisted or gave his blessing to those important ceremonies, sometimes also containing other hallmarks of Romanian royalty, such as the crown or coat of arms. A royal or princely cypher is a monogram of the reigning ruler, formally approved and used on official documents or displayed on public buildings and other objects of public use or owned by the state, such as postal boxes or military vehicles, etc.

The image above shows an interesting example of a royal chair from Mantuleasa church in Bucharest (a beautiful Brancovan style monument, restored in 1924 – ’30, in the reign of King Ferdinand and his descendant, King Carol II), photographed during a recent Historic Houses of Romania tour in that area. The chair displays Ferdinand’s cypher, a stylised back-to-back double “F”, as he was the monarch who officially inaugurated the restoration works. On top of chair’s back there is also an interesting representation of Romania’s state crown, the famous steel crown made from the melted metal of a canon captured in the 1877 Independence War. The whole assembly is rendered in the mature phase Neo-Romanian style, with ethnographic solar discs and acanthus/ vine leave carvings, constituting an interesting ceremonial furniture example expressed in the national design style. King Ferdinand’s cypher is a rare sight nowadays, the chair presented here bringing back memories of this remarkable sovereign, who strove all his life to keep a reserved and dignified public profile.

Early Neo-Romanian style house in Campina

I have found in Campina, a beautiful town north of Bucharest, on Prahova Valley, during the preparation of the last year’s architectural tour in that location, an interesting Neo-Romanian house, belonging to the early phase of development of Romania’s national architectural style. That period unfurled between 1886, the year when Lahovary House, the first Neo-Romanian edifice was built by the architect Ion Mincu, and 1906, when this design peculiar to this country, was “codified” within the architecture of the great buildings that functioned as pavilions of the Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1906 in Bucharest. The Neo-Romanian style subsequently underwent a mature and also a late phase of development until its zenith in the late 1940s.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

This wonderful example from Campina dates, in my opinion, from the 1900s, exhibiting a mixture of Neo-Romanian and Little Paris features, characteristic of the early phase of this design. Specifically Neo-Romanian is the three arched veranda, coloured ceramic medallions or the toothed brick arch above the doorway. Little Paris is the general aspect of the building, a wagon house facing the street, with a typical doorway woodwork and roof finial. The house has probably underwent a series of renovations throughout more than a century of existence, which altered or erased part of its ornaments and other architectural details, the most aggressive such intervention taking place, in my view, in the last few years.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

Nevertheless the structure retains enough original elements and details that preserve its original early Neo-Romanian character. The duo-tone processed photograph above emphasizes even more the outlines of this picturesque house, giving us a better idea about its interesting mix of Neo-Romanian and Little Paris designs.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

The main Neo-Romanian sector is the three arched veranda, a reference to the Christian holy trinity. That is also seen in the three-lobes forming the arch span. The broken arch feature is a reference to the Ottoman-Balkan architectural traditions of this region, as seen in the local Brancovan style churches of the c18th and early c19th centuries, a main source of inspiration for the Neo-Romanian design. The veranda poles are of ethnographic type, as encountered in peasant houses, another fountain of inspiration for the national architecture.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

The most eye catching elements of the facade are the glazed ceramic medallions embellishing the entrance sector or the wall space between the arches and windows. The coloured ceramic on building façades is a Victorian era innovation, that had somehow faint echoes in Romania of that period, seen mostly in early Neo-Romanian edifices. Above is a rendering in that material of a Brancovan church frieze medallion, in its turn inspired from Ottoman-Balkan Islamic architecture. Suggestive for Neo-Romanian is the toothed brick arch, which is an allusion to pre-Brancovan church architecture (as seen for example in Mihai Voda Church‘s brickwork).

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

I particularly like the yellow and blue coloured ceramic medallions pointing out the wall between the arches that together with the brown-red shade of the façade rendering, which originally was probably a Pompeian red hue, used in the decoration of many early and mature phase Neo-Romanian edifices, make up the colours of Romania’s national flag, a peculiar instance that I encountered in few other examples of houses in this design genre.

Images from the “Neo-Romanian style at its apogee” architectural tour on 6 September

The Neo-Romanian style at its apogee – Historic Houses of Romania architectural tour

The mature phase of the Neo-Romanian style unfurled over a period that started with the Great Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1906 in Bucharest when this order was presented to the wider public, until the end of the third decade of the c20th, when it reached a certain impasse under the impact of international artistic and architectural currents and adaptation to new building technologies, which later gave way to fascinating hybridisations with the Art Deco and Modernist styles. The illustrates of this post present some of the representative edifices in this highly particular design from the centre of Bucharest.

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Images from the “Late phase of the Neo-Romanian style” architectural tour on 25 August ’12

Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca tour, 25 August ’12: the late phase of the Neo-Romanian architectural style

I would like to share with you a small sample from the magnificent multitude of Neo-Romanian style houses that belong to the late phase of the development of this design peculiar to Romania, which were viewed and examined during the 25 August ’12 tour guided by the author of this blog. In basic terms it represents a synthesis between the Neo-Romanian and mainly Art Deco, or said differently- the national architecture of Romania expressed in the Art Deco coordinates of the period between the late 1920s and the mid-1940s. The modern construction technologies that emerged in the roaring twenties affording the development of light, airy structures expressed in the Art Deco and Modernist architecture, were quite antithetical to the traditionally heavy, built in brick and masonry, Neo-Romanian style edifices, as typical to its early and mature phases of the previous four decades. That led to a crisis within this indigenous architectural order, threatened by the high popularity among the public of the international modern styles, which were all the rage in Bucharest during the 1930s. The Neo-Romanian style managed to survive and even thrive, until the watershed of the Second World War, through fascinating syntheses especially with the Art Deco designs.

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Neo-Romanian style tree of life as birthday card

Neo-Romanian style tree of life, mid-1930s house, Icoanei area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Two close members of my family celebrate their birthday in the second part of August. I thought that a fitting card for this beautiful occasion would be one of my architectural photographs depicting a remarkable rendering in the Neo-Romanian style of the tree of life motif. The card which I sent to my relatives contains the image presented above, where the tree of life is embodied by the flamboyantly decorated staircase window on the right. It depicts the origins of life represented by the three grains (holy trinity) at the base of the flower pot in the lower register, and then the springing up of life in waves of vine branches and grapes. The continuity and diverse events of life are rendered on the vertical sides of the wall opening, everything culminating in paradise, seen in the pair of majestic peacocks feeding from a grape in a cup supported by a cross symbol, grouped in the upper register. The window opening is occupied by a circular reticulation panel, which can be interpreted as the trunk of a tree: a palm tree perhaps, that has biblical connotations, or a rendering of  a medieval church window glazed with circular panes of blown glass. The opening is bordered by a beautiful rope, a ubiquitous motif in Romanian church architecture and peasant art. The top of the window is of broken arch type, typical of the Brancovan churches of the c18th in Wallachia, which is a motif borrowed from the Islamic architecture of the Ottoman Balkans.

I found during my fieldwork in Bucharest four such exquisite Neo-Romanian style three of life windows embellishing buildings erected in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s. One of them, in many ways similar with the one shown in this article, can be seen and read about at this link: Magnificent Neo-Romanian style “Tree of Life” panel. Another such window decorates Prince Nicolae Villa in Cotroceni, which unfortunately is now badly damaged in botched renovation works perpetrated by uncultured contemporary Romanian proprietors.

Neo-Romanian style wall lamps designed by architect Ion Mincu

Neo-Romanian style wall lamps designed by architect Ion Mincu, Monteoru House, 1889, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The exquisite pair of lamps, presented in the images of this post, adorn the monumental doorway of Monteoru House in Bucharest, a grand boyar (the Romanian term for “aristocrat”) mansion, built in a French flavour Beaux Arts style. The edifice lines up Calea Victoriei Boulevard, a thoroughfare that is traditionally among the prime streets of Romania’s capital. The lamps belong to the early phase of the Neo-Romanian style, designed, in my opinion, by the architect Ion Mincu, under whose direction the building was radically remodelled, works finalised in 1889.

Neo-Romanian style wall lamp designed by architect Ion Mincu, Monteoru House, 1889, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

What makes me to attribute these lamps to Mincu, are two elements that betray his manner of design. The most conspicuous is constituted by the “spikes” embellishing the artefact like an out of the normal proportion crown. The other element is the shape of each of the lamp’s windows.

Neo-Romanian style wall lamp designed by architect Ion Mincu, Monteoru House, 1889, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I noticed during my fieldwork at Ion Mincu’s houses in Bucharest, his tendency to design certain architectural elements, especially those placed on the edges of an edifice or of other major components, as out of the usual proportions, like looking at them through a magnifying glass. Such examples are the spikes adorning the rainwater troughs of Lahovay House (1886 – the first Neo-Romanian style building), or the ornamental “spikes” adorning the street fence in front of Central School for Girls (1890). That tendency is also mentioned in Mincu’s biography written by Mihail Caffe (Editura Stiintifica, 1960), as regards the appearance of his sketches. The out of normal optics lamp “spikes” shown here are in that vein, which in my opinion divulge their author.

The second Mincu element discussed here, the shape of the lamp window, is designed like a miniature church doorway, modelled after examples found at Curtea de Arges cathedral and Coltei Church in Bucharest. Mincu uses this type of window for his masterly work of interior design at Constanta Bishopric Cathedral (1895), on the Romanian Black Sea shore.

Neo-Romanian style wall lamps designed by architect Ion Mincu, Monteoru House, 1889, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The lamps through those characteristics, which I attribute to Ion Mincu, have a striking aspect, certainly drawing the attention of visitors and passerby, and giving a plus of personality to Monteoru House, one of the landmark architectural edifices of Bucharest. This type of design was later used by other architects, many former students of Mincu, for some of the most prestigious Neo-Romanian style buildings that are still embellishing the city.

Glazed balconies of different eras

Bellow are three interesting images of glazed balconies/ verandas pertaining to the three main styles that characterize the architecture of Bucharest: Little Paris (last quarter of the c19th until the Great War), Neo-Romanian (late c19th – late 1940s) and Art Deco (1930s and ’40s). From what I found in my fieldwork, usually the glazed structures are not contemporary with the original building, but added as an improvement or embellishment in renovations works of the first or second decade after the edifice is put in place. The main attraction of a glazed structure, be it a balcony, doorway or light-well is in fact its exquisite ironwork, its frame, exemplified here in the second photograph showing the Neo-Romanian glazed balcony. Sometimes there are bits of original glass panes still surviving within the ironwork, which in the case of the historicist c19th Little Paris design comes in beautiful colours typical of the Victorian era coloured glass.

Little Paris style glazed balcony, 1890s house, Gradina Icoanei area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style glazed balcony, late 1920s house, Cotroceni area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco style glazed balcony, mid-1930s house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway awning

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway awning, early 1930s house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

This is a small doorway awning of a type belonging to the late Neo-Romanian style, which unfurled between the late 1920s until the end of the Second World War. That phase of Romania’s national architectural design is characterised by a reduction to fundamentals of its decorative register, often expressed in Art Deco and sometimes Modernist coordinates, in a medium that made ample use of modern construction technologies, such as reinforced concrete, steel and glass.  The outlines of the awning are clearly reduced to essential, especially the arched corbels, embellished with the rope symbol, a religious as well as an ethnographic motif. There are also representations of other ethnographic elements throughout the structure, in the same abstract vein. The whole assembly integrates itself quite harmoniously with the rest of the architecture of the house, making it an interesting late Neo-Romanian design.

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway awning, early 1930s house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway awning, early 1930s house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

King Carol I’s mosaic image

King Carol I’s mosaic image, The Romanian Athenaeum, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The superlative building of the Romanian Athenaeum, which is rightly considered the architectural symbol of Bucharest, contains a series of five mosaic medallions, each about 1 m in diameter, depicting past glorious rulers of Romanian lands, on its iterior frieze behind the colonade supporting the pediment. The one at the centre is that of King Carol I of Hohenzollern Sigmaringen (1839 – 1914), the moderniser of Romania, under whose reign the country undertook an epic process of cultural Europeanisation and economic reform, after more than four centuries within the orbit of the Ottoman Empire. I believe that the mosaics are the creation of the famous painter Costin Petrescu, a proponent of the Neo-Romanian style within the graphic arts, who also painted the great circular fresco representing the history of the Romanian people, unfurling along the wall of the Athenaeum’s auditorium. The medallion shows the king in regalia, cloacked with a coronation mantle and crowned with the steel crown made from Turkish canon captured by his army on the battlefield during the Independence war of 1877. The medallion is, in my opinion, one of the most expressive representations of King Carol I, which fortunately was left untouched during the communist rule, conveying his energetic spirit and vision that made him such an all time popular and praised leader of this country.

King Carol I’s mosaic image, detail, The Romanian Athenaeum, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)